American Airlines New York-JFK to Paris-CDG
Check-in at JFK Terminal 8 was a breeze since American Airlines now allows international travelers to use self-service kiosks. The machine scans your passport and issues a boarding pass after a roving agent verifies your credentials.. This was probably my last Terminal 8 departure as that terminal will soon close. And I will certainly be sad to see it go in some respects, Terminal 8, built in the early 1960s, sports what was once the world’s longest stained glass installation, designed by the artist Robert Sower.
It was close to departure time so I went directly to the gate. Not that many flights go out of Terminal 8 anymore since the new and spacious Terminal 9 opened, so security was so quick as not to be noticeable. I had time to check my e-mail (WLAN access is ubiquitous in both the new and the old terminals) and I heard the agent announce that we were ready to board.
Boarding was quick although I must admit I was the first to enter the aircraft. The crew was very friendly and welcoming, offering pre-departure drinks and a selection of newspapers. I settled in.
Our 767-300 aircraft hadn’t been updated to the New Generation seating but I was still able to sleep, thanks to a ritual that helps me both sleep better and prepare for the time change. On the day of departure and the preceding day, I get up several hours earlier than normal, causing my circadian rhythms to begin to switch time zones. This allowed my body to accept 20:00 as a normal bedtime. The new comforters that AA uses didn’t hurt either.
Our scheduled flight time was seven hours and thirty minutes, plenty of time for dining and sleep. I started with the Vincent Sauvestre Chablis Premier Cru “Beauroy”, accompanied by some warm mixed nuts and marinated cheese antipasto. I had just enough time to enjoy the wine when a smoked salmon and herb-marinated shrimp appetizer was offered. This was followed by a fresh green salad with asparagus and other vegetables. For the entrée, I had a choice of fillet of beef with a red wine onion sauce, breast of barbecue marinaded chicken, crab cakes, or cheese ravioli and cheese tortellini, served with pesto Alfredo sauce and marinara sauce respectively.
I choose the beef, which was accompanied by mushroom risotto, butternut squash, and harticots verts.
For dessert, an ice cream sundae or an assortment of cheese was proffered but it was simply too much so I instead had a glass of port.
The purser checked with each passenger to see if he wished to be awakened for a full breakfast (served an hour prior to landing), express breakfast (served 30 minutes prior to landing), or just for landing. Hoping to sleep, I indicated I would skip breakfast.
I awakened to the pleasant sound of clinking china as breakfast was being served. More accurately, it was being cleared as we were close to landing. As soon as I opened my eyes, a flight attendant offered a full breakfast, with a caution that we were soon going to be on the ground. Breakfast included fresh fruit, yogurt, a cheese omlette with turkey sausage and a scallion and sour cream potato timbale, warm breads, juice, and coffee.
Soon we were on the ground. We were bussed in from the parking stand and led through a dreary part of Charles De Gaulle International Airport that made London’s Heathrow look bright and cheery. The EU line for passport control moved quickly and I was soon en route.
Since we arrived on Silvester (the day before New Year’s), there was no traffic heading into the city – believe it or not, the drive in took only 30 minutes. (It can take two hours on a normal business day.) It was hard to believe that, in a few hours, my partner and I would be watching fireworks at the Eifel Tower from across the Seine at the Jardins du Trocadero.
The flight crew, recognizing that most, if not all, passengers prized sleep above everything else, provided excellent service designed to maximize sleep time.
My return was scheduled for the morning of the first and again, with no traffic, the ride to CDG was quick.
I used the self-service kiosk for my check-in; the business class check-in looked busy but no one was queued for this line. In typical European fashion, security was very matter of fact and quick. I proceeded directly to the gate and soon was on board the aircraft.
Boarding was quick and efficient. The gate area is modern and comfortable and I was the last to board, opting to catch up on news via the Internet until the very last moment.
As soon as I entered the aircraft, I noticed something new and different. This flight featured one of American’s newly configured Boeing 767-300 aircraft with Next Generation Business Class. The cabin itself is reminiscent of American’s 777 aircraft, modern and airy. American’s 767-300 aircraft feature a two-class configuration that includes new, lie-flat seats, a personal entertainment device with audio and video on demand (the Next Generation Inflight Theater), Bose QuietComfort 3 noise cancelling headphones, new cabin lighting, and new ergonomic overhead bins that swing out low for easier loading and unloading.
The new seats are made by Recaro, well known for ergonomic and comfortable automotive seats. Everything is individually adjustable, including the seat bottom, seat back, leg rest and leg-rest extension. The cushions are very comfortable and don’t force one into the unnatural position some seats require of their occupants.
Power points are in a convenient location in the shell of the seat back. A 15” screen provides passengers with privacy and a lamp mounted in the seat back illuminates the work table, providing a well-lighted workspace, while an overhead lamp provides additional illumination from above.
All passengers are seated facing forward, unlike some newer business class sections offered by other airlines. Despite the 2-2-2 configuration, since each seat can move forward when in the upright position, one passenger can offset his position from his neighbor for additional privacy. This also allows the passenger to move closer to the seat-back tray table. The table itself is innovative as there are actually two separate tables, one that drops down from the seat back and a second that lifts out of the center console. The two can be used separately or interlocked together to create a larger work or dining surface.
There are very few airline seats I would want to sit in on a regular basis, but this one might be the one.
We were quickly underway and soon at our cruising altitude. Once aloft, hot towels were offered; drinks and then lunch were served. I started with the Joseph Drouhin Meursault, a delicious dry white wine, accompanied by warm mixed nuts and a marinated cheese antipasto.
We continued with a smoked salmon and herb-marinated shrimp, followed by a salad of fresh seasonal greens and vegetables. The portions were quite generous and I found myself wondering if I would even try an entrée. The choices were tempting: cowboy steak with red chili onions and a corn bean ragout; lamb shank with an ale tomato sauce, served with mushroom risotto, butternut squash, and haricots verts; chicken Madeira, served with potato cheddar gratin, eggplant confit, and sautéed vegetables; or a Boursin lasagna.
I chose the lasagna, served with black pepper Alfredo sauce, Fines Herbes Boursin cheese, seasoned spinach, and a browned bread crum and parsley topping. It was an excellent choice.
Throughout the flight, at least the parts when I was awake as I took advantage of the comfortable lie-flat seat in bed mode, flight attendants offered beverages, chocolates, and shortly before landing a snack of a pizza or sandwich . I was still full from the previous meal but the pizza did provide a tasty nosh.
The InFlight Theater looks like a laptop without a keyboard and features a 10.6” display. It is designed to be used when in the seatback (where it normally is stowed) or placed on one of the trays, for optimal viewing. Each device is self-contained and includes ca. 10 feature-length films, 10 hours of television, 50 music CDs with jukebox functionality, 15 music videos, and 12 American Airlines branded audio channels. Since the units are not built-in, American can update the units without any installation cost. However, since they need to be removed to be updated (to get the latest television broadcasts, which include news shows), only time will tell whether this is a benefit or a hindrance.
Arrival at JFK Terminal 8 (my last Terminal 8 arrival since American has in the interim opened its new arrivals center in the brand new Terminal 9) was on time and since I had my roll-aboard with me, I cleared immigration and customs and was out the door in minutes.
Service throughout the flight was excellent and members of the flight crew were very welcoming. The new aircraft design is not just window dressing; it shows a serious and concerted effort to provide a high level of service in this market.
–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.